UW's four seniors — Noah Dickerson, Matisse Thybulle, David Crisp and Dominic Green — will go down in the annals as the group that returned the Huskies to prominence. Here's how they bounced back from 'rock bottom'.
Tears welled up and David Crisp swallowed hard while letting out a long sigh to keep his emotions in check.
“Y’all about to get me to start crying,” said the Washington senior guard while reflecting on the past four years with the Huskies.
When the topic switched to Noah Dickerson, Dominic Green and Matisse Thybulle — UW’s other seniors who will play their final home game at Alaska Airlines Arena on Saturday night — Crisp talked about the sacrifices each of them made and the unbreakable bond they built through adversity.
“I can go on for days,” he said. “They’re my brothers. I don’t mean that to be corny, and I don’t mean that to sound cool or whatever.
“They are really my brothers. I love those guys. I would go to war for them any day.”
Their loyalty to each other and to Washington is the defining trait of the four Huskies who remain from a heralded seven-man 2015 recruiting class that was ranked No. 6 nationally and tagged as saviors of a team that had fallen into mediocrity.
They were immediately saddled with expectations by an impatient UW fan base desperate for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011.
As freshmen, they won 19 games, but then they started losing big.
They lost their best players — Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss in 2016, then Markelle Fultz in 2017 — to the NBA.
They lost Devenir Duruisseau, another member of the 2015 recruiting class, who retired from basketball in 2017
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They lost 16 Pac-12 games — the most league losses in school history — in 2017-18. The same season, they lost 22 games, which tied for the most defeats in UW history.
And then, they lost their coach Lorenzo Romar, who was fired in 2017.
“The lowest part for sure was losing all of those games my sophomore year, especially at the end when we went like two months without a win,” Dickerson said, recounting a 13-game losing streak to end the season. “I’ve never been through anything like that. None of us have. When you’re that young, you don’t know how to handle something like that.
“I don’t remember getting booed or anything like that, but I did get trashed on (social media) a lot. We all did.”
Enter Mike Hopkins.
After taking over at Washington, the affable and hyperkinetic coach, who spent the previous 22 years at Syracuse as an assistant, worked overtime to retain a senior class that considered bolting.
Dickerson, who was granted his release, weighed offers from LSU and Virginia. Thybulle pondered a move to in-state rival Gonzaga. And Green drew interest from Marquette.
“Rock bottom will teach you lessons that mountain tops never will,” said Crisp, who pledged his commitment to UW after meeting with Hopkins shortly after he was hired. “That just lit a fire in us that’s never left, and it’s not going to.”
Like turning a sprocket, the losing stopped with Hopkins. And the Huskies began winning.
Washington won 21 games last season and advanced to the second round of the NIT.
“That’s where our freshman season ended, in the second game of the NIT, and it was like we came full circle and made it back to square one,” Green said. “But nobody was happy with just that. No offense to the NIT, but you dream about playing in the NCAA (tournament) and the Final Four.
“That’s the goal we set out for ourselves and this team.”
Who knows where this season will end, but the four seniors will go down in the annals as the group that returned the Huskies to prominence.
Washington (24-6, 15-2 Pac-12) won the outright conference regular-season champion, which is its fifth league title since 1953.
“Each of those guys brings something individual and unique to this team,” Hopkins said. “Matisse and his defense, David’s leadership, Noah’s ability to attract so much attention in the paint and Dom’s shooting.
“Individually, they’re pretty good. But together, they’re so much better. And that’s what I’ll remember about them.”
Green, a tireless worker and UW’s sharpshooter off the bench, will be remembered for his last-second buzzer-beating three-pointer last year that beat No. 9 Arizona. Under Hopkins, UW is 19-4 when Green makes at least two three-pointers.
“In my mind, I’m a starter and off course you want to start, but I put my heart and soul into this team and into this season because I knew we could be special and I embraced my role,” said Green who will start on Saturday against Oregon (18-12, 9-8). “I just want to play. And I want to win. … So I guess, I want my legacy to be a winner.”
At times Crisp struggled directing the offense, but he instilled his flair, bravado and win-at-all-costs personality on a team in dire need of leadership. He’s the only player in UW history to record at least 1,000 points, 300 assists, 200 three-pointers and 100 steals.
“I want to be remembered as a guy that was tough and wanted to do whatever he could to help his team win.”
After a breakout year last season in which he was voted first-team All-Pac-12, Dickerson was forced into a diminished role this season. His production dipped from 15.5 points per game and 8.4 rebounds last season, to 12.8 and 6.9 this season.
“We all had to make sacrifices and this year was my turn,” said Dickerson who became the sixth player at UW to post 1,500 points and 900 rebounds in their career. “Dom has made sacrifices. David and Tisse too. Everybody. … I’d do it all again if I could for those guys and this team.”
In many ways, Thybulle has made the biggest strides among UW’s seniors.
The 6-5 guard has started every game since the 2015-16 season and his 129 starts is the most in UW history.
During that time, he’s developed into a record-breaking defensive phenom who needs six steals to break the Pac-12 single-season record of 110 held by former California star Jason Kidd. And Thybulle is 12 steals from eclipsing the conference’s all-time mark of 321 set by former Oregon State star Gary Payton.
In addition to the records, Thybulle is a lock to win his second Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award and is one of the top contenders — along with teammate Jaylen Nowell — for the league’s player of the year award.
Thybulle allowed himself a moment of reflection Friday afternoon and the tears began to flow freely.
“It’s crazy because I don’t think people realize that when I was coming out of high school, I didn’t think I was going to play,” he said. “I didn’t think I was good enough.
“To go from being that kid, to go from thinking he was not good enough to play and to see how far I’ve come. It’s kind of crazy. I’ve come a long way.”
The same can be said about Washington’s four seniors.
After going a 2-16 finish in the Pac-12 two years ago, Washington has a chance to finish 16-2 to cap a remarkable reversal of fortunes.